Saturday, December 29, 2007

Review: SIG P226

In the "practical modern guns" department, enter one SIG-Sauer P226, caliber .40 S&W.

A quick history lesson: Back in the 1970's, Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft (less verbosely known as SIG), known both for the frighteningly accurate but unworkably heavy SIG AMT/510 battle rifle and the legendary SIG P210 pistol, decided to follow on the latter with a gun equally effective but not backbreakingly expensive. Due to the Swiss liking their neutrality, SIG contracted with J.P. Sauer and Sohn of of Germany (known for the Sauer 38H, a badass little pocket pistol featuring a recocking/decocking lever and which was mostly used by the Luftwaffe, who took most of the production run and never bothered to pay for them) to actually produce the pistols, resulting in the SIG-Sauer brand-name. The first pistol they produced was the P220, a very European single-stack automatic with a heel mag catch, DA/SA trigger, safe decocker, and unmatched reliability. In 1984, as an entrant in the US Army pistol trials, they produced a double-stack version, identical except for the magazines and a button magazine catch, called the P226. Despite being in many ways superior to the Beretta entry, the latter won (the handwringing hath never ceased on this matter, for one reason or another). Nonetheless, the Wondernine furor of the 1980s produced a ready market for this fine firearm, and the P226 won widespread favor with police agencies in Europe and North America, as well as the FBI and the Navy SEALs.

No doubt the mere mention of the SIG-Sauer P-series will let forth a great torrent of wailing from both the 1911 and Glock mafias for its DA/SA trigger; comments such as "a solution in search of a problem" and of course "unnecessary complexity" bubble forth to the surface like bunker oil from a mortally-wounded battleship. To which I both acknowledge the utility and desirability of a single consistent trigger pull and say thusly, "fuck y'all." Because the double-action trigger is nae problematic with a bit of practice.

The trick is merely to dry-fire. Preferably on a daily basis. Since you might do well to perform such a task regularly with any firearm, it should not be problematic. In fact, after a while your DA-only groups may well shrink to below your SA groups. At least Ernest Langdon says so. Whilst shooting steel, the first shot is usually the most reliable.

One also notes a lack of similar wailing vis-a-vis Trigger Pull when revolvers are mentioned.

The double action is listed as 10.5 lbs, and the single at 3.5 lbs. Neither are in any way taxing, and both are exceptionally crisp. The single in particular has a surprisingly short travel. In effect, the bullets not hitting the target are your fault, you taffer. Stop jerking the bloody thing, it's not going to bite. Except with CCI Blazers. What the hell is up with those things?

Trigger mechanism notwithstanding, is it a good gun? Are you bloody kidding me?

In .40 S&W, the 226 feels like a 228 in 9mm. The large frame soaks quite a bit of the .40's snappy recoil. With lighter loads (like S&B plinking ammo, for instance) the 226 has negligible muzzle rise, and absolutely no bite. It takes borderline +P loads (such as CCI Blazers, which are surprisingly spicy) for any sort of fatigue to set in. Hogue grips make the gun even more manageable.

The sights are standard SIG bar-dot (also seen on the Beretta M9). Combined with the trapezoid inset on the rear sight, target acquisition is quite snappy. The only problem is low-light acquisition, which is improved by 1) clearing the grime from the sight surfaces with a Q-tip and 2) replacing the sights with tritium 3-dots. The latter are available from any number of suppliers - Trijicon, TruGlo, Novak, etc. I'm sticking with standard dots for now.

The sights are drift-adjustable fixed, which is peachy so long as the gun comes shooting on point. Mine does, so no big. However, a friend's 228 shot consistently left, and a sight pusher is a solid $180 online. A bit of quality time with a brass rod and a mallet will do well to both scuff up the finish on your gun and knock the sight back into alignment. Still, a royal pain in the ass if you don't get it right the first time.

The barrel is traditionally rifled and machined to a high-grade; Ernest Langdon called it the only gun he didn't need to accurize for competition. The traditional rifling is nice for those who prefer to reload with unjacketed bullets. I found TMJs for cheap, so that won't be an issue, but it's good to know I can. Due to bolt-face differences, the 9mm P226 barrels apparently won't work in a .40 P226, which is a bit odd given that apparently the same will suffice (at least in a plinking capacity) in a SIGPro 2340. Bar-Sto actually does make a semi-drop-in 40-to-9 barrel, but I can't yet justify it at $240, especially since the SIG .40 mags are too wide at the mouth to hold 9mms, and thus I'd have to get a few more $35 mags.

A notable aspect of the feed is the almost straight-in feed angle; this explains the gun's legendary reliability with anything up to and including a full wadcutter (I haven't tried it yet, but one of these days...). One small side effect of this is the tight fit of a full magazine in a gun with the slide forward. If you're not concerned about your +1 and always speed reload, you won't need to give the mag a few extra slaps to make sure, but it's a bit jarring to to a tac reload with a fresh mag.

On the subject of magaines, the California-crippled 10-rounders only lose two rounds, so I don't feel too ripped off; if I had the same piece in 9mm, I would no doubt mourn my missing five rounds. The Mec-Gars are nicely built, and have yet to give me guff, though the springs are extrordinarily tight out of the box and make round ten a royal thumb-buster until they've broken in a bit. They also don't have the bizarre tenth-round rattle that the P228's crippled magazines have. I download my backup mags by one, because the tight springs keep them from fully seating without a mighty slap. Once again, a bit of break-in will doubtless solve this. But then, 9+1 of 135-gr JHPs is enough to make a statement.

Fit and finish is top-flight; no military-grade roughness, even on interior surfaces. My example was almost new when acquired, so I am witnessing the wear marks showing up, but they are hardly unpleasant. Whatever treatment is on the alloy frame is extrordinarily tough; the slide rails show no sign of wear whatsoever.

So is it worth it? Well, it's fed about 2600 rounds so far, and the only reliability gaffes have been my own boneheaded reloading errors (neck them cartridges only as far as necessary, or the crimp won't be tight enough and catch in the chamber, often keeping them from going fully into battery...live and learn). And it's yet to not match whatever effort I put into keeping it on target. So definitely.

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